Have to pause this one, as Google books is being kind of jenky and not letting me come back to the same place in the text. Which, surprise surprise, mHave to pause this one, as Google books is being kind of jenky and not letting me come back to the same place in the text. Which, surprise surprise, makes it kind of hard to read. Too bad, too, as I was enjoying it....more
Some time ago, somebody caused a ruckus on the internet by asserting that, generally speaking, women aren't funny. That this actually caused a controvSome time ago, somebody caused a ruckus on the internet by asserting that, generally speaking, women aren't funny. That this actually caused a controversy of sorts is ridiculous to me. Of course women are funny. Anybody who disagrees hasn't read Julie Klam, Julie Klausner, Sarah Vowell...And they clearly haven't read Rachel Shukert.
This book, following the young Shukert on various European excursions and adventures, is as funny and knowing as any book I've read this. After college, Shukert gets a job as a sort of glorified extra in an experimental play. When the play ends its run in New York, the terrifying and maniacal director takes the show on a brief European tour, from Vienna to Zurich. Shukert has the usual European experiences -- having sex with an older man with an uncircumcised penis, being not-so-silently judged by the snooty Austrian hotel clerk, eating scalding sausages in the company of skinheads -- and some not so usual ones.
At the end of her tour, with few job prospects on the horizon, Shukert takes advantage of a bureaucratic error to stay in Europe indefinitely. She moves to Amsterdam to live with some friends. And that's where the book really gets good. Dental emergencies lead to near-sexual assaults, stolen bicycles bring about horrible karmic payback. Etc, etc.
Not only is this a hilarious and fast read, I really feel like it speaks to issues of class in America in some very subtle ways. With a certain retrospective gaze, Shukert notes that "finding oneself" is a luxury of a certain class of person, that she is privileged to get to traipse about Europe, even when that traipsing is unpleasant or downright horrible. And Shukert's Jewishness lends another layer to the text, positioning her as something of an "other" even in her ancestral homeland of Omaha, Nebraska.
But what I'll remember about this book is not Shukert's ethnicity, but rather how damn funny it is. Sometimes you just need a good laugh, and Shukert, it seems, is willing to be both laughed at and laughed with. She's a good sport, and in that sense, I think Everything is Going to Be Great fits nicely into the genre of "loser fic," even if it isn't fiction (Hopefully Rachel knows I mean this as a complement!).
If the entire book had been the first and the last sections, this would've been 5-stars, hands down. Unfortunately, while I appreciate why the middleIf the entire book had been the first and the last sections, this would've been 5-stars, hands down. Unfortunately, while I appreciate why the middle book needed to be there (and I find myself lingering, in thought, over that section more than any other), I just couldn't stand that gruesome ugly desert of death. I don't think this book is quite a masterpiece -- too messy, too all over the place. But it has its masterful moments. Eventually, I will get to Savage Detectives....more
What to say about this book? It's one of the five best books I've ever read, and I think I've only met one person who considers it anything less thanWhat to say about this book? It's one of the five best books I've ever read, and I think I've only met one person who considers it anything less than one of the best books of the 20th Century. Is that enough to recommend it to you?
I also wrote about this book for The Millions last year. Everything I said then still stands. I can't wait to re-read this....more
While nowhere near as good as Williams's transcendent Stoner, Butcher's Crossing is a fairly riveting story of one man's journey into the West. Will AWhile nowhere near as good as Williams's transcendent Stoner, Butcher's Crossing is a fairly riveting story of one man's journey into the West. Will Andrews, Harvard dropout, travels to the dusty Kansas town of Butcher's Crossing in search of his true self, which he'd previously only found in the woods around Cambridge. In Butcher's Crossing, he seeks out an acquaintance of his father's, McDonald, who runs a trading company, buying and selling buffalo hides. McDonald can tell that Andrews has come to Butcher's Crossing for something other than a business opportunity -- he wants to go out on a hunt -- so he recommends that he talk to a man named Miller. Miller has an idea for a hunt that will put all other hunts to shame. He wants to make an expedition deep into the Colorado Territory, where he once discovered a hidden valley filled with thousands upon thousands of buffalo. After remarkably little consideration, Andrews agrees to fund the expedition and travel along as a skinner.
The book is full of rich, evocative descriptions of rolling plains, rocky mountains, intense heat and bitter, horrible cold. It's also rife with scenes of slaughter and, yes, butchering. You can practically smell the entrails steaming in the summer sun. With relatively sparse dialog, Williams manages to create several very vivid characters, including the bumbling, haunted Charley Hoge, my favorite in the book.
I rarely read Westerns (Might this be my first? I think it is.), so I can't comment on how this either conforms to or deviates from the conventions of the genre. I found the descriptions of how the men lived, of how they survived without all that I enjoy in my daily life (like plumbing and a bed), to be fascinating. And the story -- a lassic quest, really -- offered plenty of action. Indeed, there's a sequence that's as tense and pact with danger as the movie Wages of Fear.
In the end, I found the philosophy of the book to be somewhat opaque, and it's for this that I'm giving the book three stars. If you are looking for a great Western, you'll definitely find it in Butcher's Crossing. But if you want to read Williams at his best, I recommend Stoner instead....more
It feels odd to write a review of a book that so many people have already read and praised. Nevertheless, I will try.
Cloud Atlas is an impressive, atIt feels odd to write a review of a book that so many people have already read and praised. Nevertheless, I will try.
Cloud Atlas is an impressive, at times astounding novel, combining the best elements of post-modern metafiction with straightforward, page-turning genre fare. Comprised of six novellas, each cut into two pieces and told in chronological and then reverse-chronological order, the book manages the delicate feat of changing pace, tone, and setting multiple times while still engaging the reader at every turn.
Common themes unite the six stories -- slavery and freedom, cruelty and human decency, and the cyclical nature of time (particularly as expressed through reincarnation) -- as well as certain planted elements (a common birthmark, certain unique turns of phrase that echo throughout). I found the planted birthmarks and whatnot to be bit tedious, but otherwise, I thought the subtle repetition was masterful. "A crocodile of..." as used to describe a group a children was especially striking.
My favorite section of the book, or rather, the section I found most fascinating, was the last section, chronologically speaking, called "Sloosha's Crossin' and Everything After." Narrated by a goat-herder living in post-apocalyptic (and hence primitive) Hawaii, the story involves a prolonged visit by a woman from an itinerant band of people called the Prescients who maintain a knowledge of the technology of the pre-apocalypse world. I was particularly interested in how the goat-herder told the story, and in the little strange turn the story took at the end.
Cloud Atlas is a book for anyone who enjoys both thinking about narrative as much as reading it. It contains fictions within fictions within fictions, and each of its worlds and characters is a living, breathing soul. To think this book languished on my shelves for years before I gave it a chance. I had wrongly lumped it in with the byzantine work of Thomas Pynchon and William T. Vollmann. Don't make the same mistake I did. This is a big, impressive, thoughtful novel that wouldn't be out of place on the beach. Read it today....more
I read this book so long ago (three months!) that I almost don't remember it. What I do remember is the peculiar experience of reading it. I read it oI read this book so long ago (three months!) that I almost don't remember it. What I do remember is the peculiar experience of reading it. I read it on two flights, and on both, flight attendants tapped me on the shoulder to say "Isn't it great?! I'm on the third one now." It was a very odd experience, as people rarely seem to acknowledge what I'm reading. I don't think I've read a book that was this much in the zeitgeist in years. It was the closest I've come to a mass experience involving a book. So that was interesting.
As for the book itself, it was...okay. I really enjoyed the early Lisbeth Salander sections. She's such a great Tarantino-esque female character (even as she later falls into the dreadful male fantasy aspects of the novel). Once she was more actively integrated into the story, the book really took off. As many people have noted, the beginning of the book was interminable, and the end was also surprisingly drawn out. It was like one of those movies that ends five times. But in between, I have to admit, it was a page-turner. Supremely creepy and very well-plotted.
Was there too much coffee drinking? Yes. Was sex for Blomqvist always bizarrely consequence-free? Yes. Was the book still enjoyable? Yes. Am I dying to read the next installment? No. I can't entirely say why, but it wasn't the kind of reading experience that left me hungry for the next book in the series. I don't think it was quite the equal of Red Dragon and if I'm going to push forward with the second and third volumes of an oft-read series this fall, it will likely be the Smiley trilogy by John le Carré....more
Disclosure: I know Tom, a bit, from when we were both living in beautiful Iowa City awhile back. In fact, when this book came out, I interviewed him fDisclosure: I know Tom, a bit, from when we were both living in beautiful Iowa City awhile back. In fact, when this book came out, I interviewed him for The Millions. You should go read that interview. I think it's a pretty good one, but of course, I'm biased.
I really enjoyed this book. I know that the word "football" will scare off many of you, but don't let it. This isn't a book that will spend pages describing what the Sam linebacker does. McAllister does a great job giving enough info about the game to be engaging to the novice without getting too bogged down in the details. I thought his take on the condition of the modern fan was fascinating. He delves into his obsession with the EMB (Eagles Message Board) -- and internet fan message board he belongs to -- and shows how close we can all feel to the players on the field. One particularly great scene involves him chasing his favorite player on the freeway, potentially risking his life and that of his wife.
In fact, scenes like that are where the book really shines. Because McAllister doesn't go easy on himself, ever, it makes the maturity he gains throughout the book much more gratifying. It takes balls to write an honest book like this, and apparently McAllister's got em. He's upfront about the fact that he didn't always handle his father's illness in the best way (though his immense love and respect for his dad is self-evident on every page). When he describes a night of debauchery outside Veterans stadium, he doesn't shy away from his unsavory deeds, nor does he make them out to be worse than they were. I came away from the book feeling that, above all else, it was him on the page. That's important for a work like this.
This is a great book about fathers and sons, of course, but it's also a fascinating and thoughtful examination of what it means to say "This is me. This is what I'm about."...more
A life-changing book, comparable to The Omnivore's Dilemma in how it reshaped my thinking on a subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in hoA life-changing book, comparable to The Omnivore's Dilemma in how it reshaped my thinking on a subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in how the web is impacting social interaction. While Shirky can drift into techno-utopianism from time to time, he seems to always look at the world with fresh eyes. Unlike other writers on the subject, Shirky's prose is clear, and his examples are quite convincing....more